It seems to be a modern turn of phrase that I come across in the fitness industry that trainers are quoting ‘I read in the research’ to prove a point. Although this does sound impressive, but what does the research really show? How can we be sure what we are quoting is correct and free of bias (if that is ever truly possible)?
The first rule of research is that being able to understand research and make critical use of the results is vital to make sure that you are referencing a study correctly. This is a difficult skill, in my opinion there are many out there who read a study and as it was ‘published’ it they take it at face value. We need to be more critical and make sure we are applying the findings correctly.
If you ask any academic they will tell you that you can often find studies that completely oppose each other and contradict each others findings, for any given topic. Additionally data can be presented in a range of ways that can at times seem to contradict another method of presenting the very same data. As you can see this can be tricky.
So with all of this in mind how can we make sure that the research we are quoting is correct? How can we start to look at data with a critical eye? Here are a few pointers to get you started!
First of all definitions are key what is this study defining as key terms, if we take the term ‘exercise’ what does that mean to you? What I consider ‘exercise’ may be the thought of having people take part in a triathlon, where as for others it may be more population specific such as walking the dog.
Methodology is another area to consider, this takes a little understanding of the scientific process (maybe a topic for anther day). But was the method used appropriate, was the research conducted in a manner where it was unbiased. Did the method used have an effect on the results gained?
This also includes considering what was the population used? If a study was conducted using participants who were 80 years old, could the finding be applied to 20 year olds? Could a study conducted in another country be truly applied to the UK?
How long was the study conducted over? These types of studies give us a great deal of insight as we follow the same participants for a long period of time but time is then an issue with funding for this type of research being limited and also the issue of relevancy by the time published. This may draw people to shorter studies, but these too have issues. Can a snap shot be used to draw effective conclusions?
Mentioning funding… who is funding and conducting the study? Believe it or not there are studies out there saying sugar is not a problem!! The person who is providing the cash and paying the bills may have a level of influence of the study design and the approaches of the researchers. This in turn may effect the outcome of the study.
One of the best ways to do an initial check on quality is to see if the paper was it peer reviewed and published? I f it was it went through a process where other academics scrutinised the outcome and design making the results more reliable and basically upheld by the scientific community.
How old was the paper? is also an important question to ask, as with most things the world of science keeps on moving and a study from 10 years ago may now be outdated!
So if you are going to start quoting research please make sure you understand the basics, I hope the basic words of advice above can help!